Kesey's Merry Prank: Bus Isn't The Original -- Smithsonian Says It Doesn't Want '47 Model

GRANTS PASS, Ore. - When Ken Kesey assembled the old Merry Pranksters to drive across the country and perhaps donate his psychedelic bus to the Smithsonian Institution, he had another trick up his sleeve.

The bus currently on the road isn't the same one that drove into the lore of the psychedelic 1960s, and the Smithsonian doesn't want it, spokeswoman Madeleine Jacobs said yesterday.

Kesey and the Merry Pranksters became heroes of the 1960s when Tom Wolfe chronicled the 1964 trip aboard the bus named Further in his book, ``Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.'' At the time, Kesey was fresh from the success of his novels ``One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'' and ``Sometimes a Great Notion.''

This week, Kesey and some of the old gang boarded a wildly painted bus, also named Further. Kesey said they were headed for the Smithsonian, though he wasn't sure he really would give up the bus now that he was having so much fun with it.

Along the way, he also promoted his new book, ``The Further Inquiry,'' in which the soul of Neal Cassady is put on trial. Cassady was Further's driver, as well as the inspiration for the driver in Beat writer Jack Kerouac's ``On the Road.''

``The truth is, we had no direct knowledge of his intention to give the bus to (the Smithsonian) other than what we had been reading in the paper,'' Jacobs said from Washington.

``A few years ago, some of our curators talked to some potential fund-raisers about the possibility of purchasing or acquiring the original bus used by Ken Kesey and restoring it. But we were never successful in reaching Mr. Kesey directly.

``The current bus he is using is not even close to the original,'' she added. ``Even if it were, the Smithsonian is not interested in a replica.''

In Berkeley, Calif., Kesey denied he had tried to pass off the current 1947 International school bus as the 1939 original.

``We just let them go along with it,'' he said.

He said the driver's seat and other parts from the original were put into the newer bus.

He said he was miffed at the Smithsonian for never contacting him personally when the institution was interested in restoring his original bus.

``I thought it was a little presumptuous of them, and it was time they deserved a little pranking,'' he said.

Kesey said the spirit of the bus was more important than its body, and the spirit was alive and well.

``This is much more the original than anything they could come up with, no matter how much money they put into it,'' he said. ``When it's working well, it might as well stay out on the road.''

As for the Smithsonian, Jacobs said they could take a joke, but wanted the public to know that neither of Kesey's buses was bound for the museum.

``While we appreciate Mr. Kesey's view, which we think is fun - we need more humor in our lives - we want the general public to know that is not the case.''